Fishing with veterans teaches life long lessons
Today we continue our recognition of National Fishing and Boating Week with a personal story from Josie Cicia. Josie is a longtime volunteer with the Service, dedicating much of her free time to helping those who dedicated their lives to protecting our country: U.S. military veterans. Read how Josie’s work with the veterans fishing program at the Richard Cronin National Salmon Station helped shape decisions in her life.
I grew up living next door to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Richard Cronin National Salmon Station in Sunderland, Massachusetts. Throughout my childhood my older sister and I would venture down to the station on a regular basis, exploring the world and work that surrounded us there.
I was always so interested in everything that happened at the station. When I was about five years old my mom started to let me walk down and visit by myself. I felt so fortunate and privileged to live right across the street from this fascinating facility. When the station was active in the Atlantic salmon restoration program, the manager, Micky Novak, always welcomed me (along with anyone else) with open arms. I grew up learning about the station, and the important conservation work that happened there.
I volunteered at the station for 13 years. The station wasn’t just a place for me to go to, it became part of my life, and it was my second home.
Volunteering at the station introduced me to many Service programs. But the one program that stood out for me the most was the Wounded Veterans Fishing Program, held once a month throughout the summer at Veteran’s Pond on the station’s property. I am so thankful to Micky for introducing me to the program and giving me the chance to became part of this invaluable opportunity offered to the veterans who have sacrificed and served our country.
Working with veterans is an honor. They fought to keep our country safe, and now I get to help them have fun and enjoy time outside fishing, socializing and having a cook out. One of my favorite parts of spending time with the veterans is when they share their stories with me. Their stories have actually influenced some of the choices I’ve made for my own life.
Volunteering wasn’t just a passing interest to me. It became part of everything I did. It was so important to me that I would bring my friends along to the program to share this wonderful experience with them. I liked to tell them that volunteering is more than just a good experience. It makes you feel so much better because you are honoring veterans who live in nursing homes, by helping them fish and enjoy time being outside. My closest friend used to always say “you don’t know Josie until you’ve seen her working down at the salmon station.”
When I first learned that the station was no longer going to be active in Atlantic salmon restoration, I was scared and sad that the veterans fishing program might also come to an end. But much to my relief, the program is continuing this year, as it has every year since Micky held the first event in 1992.
I am now 19 years old, and just finished my first year at college. I still continue to volunteer at the veterans fishing program because it is an amazing opportunity. We just held the first event of this year, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It is hard to describe the feeling of happiness and sincerity I felt being back at the pond getting ready for all the veterans to come and reunite with all the other volunteers who have watched me grow up.
The veterans fishing program helped me realize that I want to go to school to study environmental science. It has shown me how important it is to protect wildlife and the natural environment around us. I often talk with some of the veterans and volunteers about how the environment has changed so much in their lifetime. Hearing their stories always makes me sad, which has helped me to realize what I want to study in college. The environmental field has so much to offer. I plan to someday, continue my volunteer journey and show younger generations how important it is for all of us.